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The Greek Number System

By: Maritsa Lahanas Ralph Andrews Katelyn Hysick Kristen Hughes Kyle Jones

Life Before the Greek Numbering System

If we go back in time to Ancient Greece, it is apparent that they did not use the Arabic numerals that we use here today. The first system that they used to signify their letters was the Attic System. This was very similar to other numbering systems used back then and consisted of lining up symbols in rows. For instance, I equaled 1, equaled 5, equaled 10, equaled 50, H equaled 100, H equaled 500, X equaled 1000, X equaled 5000, M equaled 10000, and M equaled 50000. There was a very big problem with this system though because it was a very long way of writing out numbers. An example of this is when writing out the number 849, it consists of 13 characters. It took up too much space which made it very difficult in the ancient times because people were still carving into stone tablets.

Attic Symbols
Decimal Symbol 1

10 100


Represented the number 849

What were they thinking

To try to fix this problem, the Greeks thought up the idea of using their alphabet to represent numbers. This system was galled the Greek Number System and is also identified by the names Milesian Numerals, Alexandrian Numerals, or Alphabetic Numerals. This was a lot more condensed than the Attic System. This alphabetic system operated on the additive principle which meant that all the letters added together equaled the total number. For example, the number 241 is written (200 + 40 + 1). For this system to work, nine symbols were needed for the ones digits, nine were needed for the tens place, and nine were needed for the hundreds place. This meant that they needed a total of 27 characters. The problem was that the Greek alphabet only consisted of 24 letters so they had to make up three new ones which were the digamma which stood for a 6, a koppa which stood for 90, and a sampi for 900. These three letters are now obsolete and are not used in the Greek alphabet. To represent numbers from 1,000 to 999,999 the Ancient Greeks used the same letters from their alphabet and they just put a comma in front of the letter to distinguish them from the other numbers.


The invention of the Greek Number System made it much more convenient for the Ancient Greeks to write numbers down in their stone carvings and allowed them to stamp values into their coins more easily. This system is still used in modern Greece on rare occasions for ordinal numbers. They used this system as we use Roman Numerals. However, on a daily basis, Arabic numbers are used in Greece just like we use here in the United States.

Sources .html m-sys.html#greek